HR has a role in ensuring the successful introduction of remote working, says AHRI Chairman Peter Wilson AM (FCPHR). “As we have moved into workplace flexibility arrangements, a number of challenges emerge that are not easy to either identify or overcome,” he says.
Our movement from a state of work-life balance to the current mode of work-life integration has a range of benefits, which were outlined in last month’s column. Remote working is hard to argue against in principle. However, a number of organisations have instituted workplace flexibility environments and reversed their decision within a few months because the enabling polices, practices, mindsets or infrastructure were not well-enough understood or implemented comprehensively.
So what needs to happen differently? The challenge often starts with HR not only to advocate, but also to enable remote working and workplace flexibility. That means surveying co-workers as to what types of flex work they are seeking, and then to communicate with management to flesh out what their concerns are in doing this, some of which will be below the surface and need time to be teased out.
Key questions for successful workplace flexibility implementations are:
- Is the relevant IT infrastructure, security and connectivity in place? For example, remote working without reliable wifi access might mean only independent ‘offline’ work can be done. Further, some employers will want to have digital connectivity with co-workers to update data. False expectations are a recipe for a disaster. Appropriate testing can only confirm what actual practice will be like.
- Another issue is failing to map the consequences of workplace flexibility for not only one worker, but also co-workers, customers and stakeholders with whom there is regular contact.
- Further, what are the OHS implications for the workers themselves? On safety – employers who assent to the home as part of the workplace have an obligation to determine that it is fit-for-purpose, and that some risk identification and mitigation process has been undertaken.
- Managers will need to be trained in successful performance management behaviours for remote working. Workshops for bosses and co-workers are essential to rehearse ‘how this is all going to work in practice’, simply because different skills and attitudes will be required.
- Communications protocols will also differ. How do bosses and workers contact each other? What happens when there is a breakdown? How do you best manage meetings where at least two parties are patched in remotely? Always have default contact points identified so ‘the boss wasn’t available’ excuse can be avoided.
HR needs to advise responsible managers to keep an open mind of these arrangements as critical to both expectations of the modern workplace, Generations X, Y and Z attitudes, the employer’s brand and also in winning the war for talent.
Key tips for HR to tease out the problems of remote working before they arise:
- If you have any doubts about durability or success, advocate a pilot test in an area where conditions are maximised for positive outcomes, as an environment that will surely provide learning curve benefits for other work areas that look tougher for whatever reason.
- Always be clear of the communal responsibilities to meet business objectives on both bosses and co-workers.
- Be more cautious and methodical with implementing workplace flexibility in work environments that are likely to undergo rapid changes or a restructure.
- One size doesn’t fit all. Workplaces are characterised by different work needs and employee preferences.
- Reinforce that another key condition for success is trust. Indicate that workplace arrangements may be subject to spot audit, and that contraventions confirmed for a few might end the workplace flexibility operations for all. Transparency on collective responsibilities is the best compliance tool available. The majority will want to do the right thing, and be alert to any bad apples that risk spoiling it for all involved.
- Regularly review learnings and share best practices.
The workplace flexibility shift is inevitable. But it shouldn’t be assumed or taken for granted, as it requires a different way of working. HR’s role in ensuring its successful delivery and sustainability is probably second to none.